Charity Week began as Charity Weekend in the school year of 1961-62 and remains one of the most beloved traditions of the University of Dallas.
Started by Professor of Philosophy and Politics Dr. Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, the weekend included many of the same activities still held today.
When the jail was erected, it was accompanied by a live chess game, where Wilhelmson played against the best student chess player, complete with faculty members dressed as chess pieces. He and the students who volunteered also organized events requiring money to participate, such as a poker game and a dunk tank. According to the “History of UD” folder from the Information Desk in the UD library, these charity events managed to raise between $10,000 and $20,000 that was donated to various charities.
In 1964, students added the male auction and the talent show as part of the festivities.
“[Charity Week] looked like lots of people being dragged off to jail,” said current President Thomas S. Hibbs, reminiscent of the Charity Weeks in the 80s.
In an interview, Hibbs related the antics of Physics Professor Dr. Richard Olenick.
“Olenick had all these remarkable ways of avoiding getting arrested through using contraptions in the classroom,” said Hibbs.
Olenick confirmed these stories.
“The first charity week I was here for, I taught in Gorman Lecture A,” Olenick said. “The freshmen had contrived a pulley system to lift me up in a chair … And at that time we had guards that came and arrested professors. So, when they came in I was up there with a squirt gun, squirting them … until they brought a hose in from outside.”
Olenick had to abandon ship, with the fear of getting electrocuted by the hose hitting the lights around him, but that didn’t stop him next Charity week.
“I coated my body with aluminum foil underneath my clothes,” said Olenick. “Then I connected myself to an electrostatic generator, so if they tried to touch me they would get shocked, but I wouldn’t.”
This plan also didn’t last.
“It worked for a while until they were able to get the generator unplugged,” said Olenick.
Keeping up with his electric theme, Olenick came up with an even more brilliant idea.
“I surrounded myself with electrified pickles,” Olenick said.
He had put metal forks in the pickles and connected them with wire, suspended them around him and plugged them in.
“And they start glowing and hissing … and that kind of provided a boundary.” Understandably, Olenick adds that “they actually didn’t do anything that time to get me!”
With these attempts, it’s no wonder that Hibbs says “my biggest memory of Charity week, back in the early ’80s, was Dr. Olenick escaping incarceration”
In later years, Olenick abandoned electricity and instead broadcasted his lecture from the astronomy observatory.
“So the students came in and I’m teaching class and they’re like, ‘where is he?’ and they couldn’t find me,” said Olenick, “I always tried to use physics … [for] a learning opportunity.”
Charity week, according to Olenick, was rather different 30 years ago.
“It used to be professors had to be in the same jail as students, and I think that’s probably good,” he said. “It’s too cushy for the faculty to have their own [jail] with no guards and coffee and donuts, I mean come on, we need to suffer.”
Olenick wished that the guards could come to the classroom, but recognized “it got out of hand at times.”
He recalls Father Chris Rabay, O. Cist., a theology professor, who would “be kicking and moving and they would have to carry him … to get him to jail,” agreeing that it was rather a foreshadowing of both Father Maguire’s and Father Thomas Esposito’s antics
“I agree with a lot of the changes, though … especially students arresting students was getting out of hand … now it’s a lot safer.”
Charity Week, as one of the longest standing UD traditions, is still growing.
Olenick commends the contribution of the Society of St. Joseph (SSJ), of which he is an advisor, for building the jail.
“There were times jails were pretty flimsy,” said Olenick. “[SSJ members] do an excellent job. “I’m really glad they do that for the community.”
Hibbs personally, is “looking forward to [Charity Week]” and being incarcerated.
The history of UD as a whole is evident of the great changes that have been made, and all the
history can be found in both the collection of yearbooks in the Cowan-Blakley Memorial Library and the “History of UD” folder at the information desk.